Surfing legend Andy Irons died of a massive heart attack at age 32. The results of an autopsy, released today, showed that his arteries were clogged like someone in their late 50's.
The autopsy revealed the three-time world champion experienced an anterior descending blockage, sometimes referred to as the "widow maker." This is the same type of heart attack that killed NBC News anchor Tim Russert at the age of 58. (At the time of his death, Russert had "excellent numbers," according to his cardiologists, due to medications which had lowered his cholesterol to "safe" levels.)
When fatty plaque blocks an artery responsible for around 40% of blood flow to one side of the heart, unless you are in an Emergency Room at the time it happens, you are dead.
"A plaque of Mr. Irons' severity, located in the anterior descending coronary artery, is commonly associated with sudden death," explained Dr. Vincent Di Maio, a prominent forensic pathologist who reviewed Irons' autopsy report.
"The only unusual aspect of the case is Mr. Irons' age, 32 years old," said Di Maio. "Deaths due to coronary atherosclerosis usually begin to appear in the late 40s. Individuals such as Mr. Irons have a genetic predisposition to early development of coronary artery disease. In about 25% of the population, the first symptom of severe coronary atherosclerosis is sudden death."
No other factors contributed to his death, Di Maio said -- despite evidence of probable cocaine use 30 hours prior to the fatal heart attack, as noted in the autopsy.
Irons' widow, Lyndie, said that looking back, she does remember a few instances in the last year in which her husband complained of chest pains or occasional heartburn. She said a holistic health practitioner in Australia, whom he visited when he was looking for vitamin therapy, "offhandedly" said the surfer "had the heart of a 50-year-old."
"But Andy shrugged it all off and led no one to believe he was in ill health," Lyndie Irons said.
Being in great physical condition -- like a world class surfer -- does not offer sufficient protection against the food choice-induced epidemic of heart disease.
What is truly frightening is the number of people in their 30's and 40's suffering from acute heart disease, which previously was seen largely in people when they reached their 50's and 60's.
There is one proven way to avoid the heart disease Russian roulette game: a lowfat, plant-strong diet, such as those advocated by Caldwell Esselstyn MD, John McDougall MD, Joel Fuhrman MD, Dean Ornish MD, Jeff Novick MS RD, Rip Esselstyn -- and a number of other plant-based authorities. A properly designed raw food diet can do the same thing.
32-year-olds out getting regular strenuous exercise probably feel immune to concerns about heart disease. Unfortunately, that is increasingly a fatal mistake younger adults are making.